Wednesday, September 25, 2013


If this were a baseball story, the wire service capsule might be:

"Literacy 2, 6 Book Banners 5, 1.

"ASHEBORO, N.C. -- In the decisive second game of their administrative double-header, the Randolph County, North Carolina School Board voted 6 to 1 at a special meeting Wednesday night to reverse a 5-2 vote a week ago Monday that ordered school librarians to remove all copies of Ralph Ellison’s acclaimed novel The Invisible Man from their library shelves."

In fact, here's how The Associated Press reported the story: "ASHEBORO, N.C. -- The Randolph County Board of Education voted Wednesday to rescind its ban on Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," returning it to local high school libraries.

The Courier-Tribune of Asheboro reports the board voted 6-1 at a special meeting to reverse the ban it issued 10 days ago. The board voted 5-2 on Sept. 16 to pull the book from high school library shelves.

The initial decision came in reaction to a complaint from the mother of a Randleman High School student who said the book was "too much for teenagers." The mother specifically objected to the book's language and sexual content.

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A statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation applauded the reversal.

"Tonight, the Randolph County Board of Education righted a wrong. The freedom to read is just as essential to a healthy democracy as the freedom of speech and all other rights protected by the U.S. Constitution," foundation legal director Chris Brook said.

"This episode should serve as a valuable reminder to students, teachers, parents, and school officials across the state of our ongoing duty to promote academic freedom, ensure the free exchange of ideas and information, and reject the always looming threat that censorship and suppression, for any reason, pose to a free society," Brook said.

"Invisible Man" is a first-person narrative by a black man who considers himself socially invisible. It was originally published in 1952. The ban sparked local reaction and led to media attention across the nation.

Before the meeting, Donald Matthews, president of the Randolph County chapter of the NAACP, released a letter to the county school board stating that local NAACP members disagree with the book ban. On Wednesday, a local book store began distributing free copies of the book contributed by the publisher to county high school students."

Free copies for all county high school students? How cool is that!!

And, as long as we are looking back, let's take a second look at the reportedly Al Shabaab-directed terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. This was a terrible and frightening crime, but already, the NY Times seems to be taking dictation from American intelligence and Africanist think tank sources to inflate everything that happened there, and especially the threat to the United States.

Frankly, this is reminiscent of the panic (and self-interest) American officials and strategic counter-terrorist thinkers spread after the attacks on 9/11. Take a look at Barton Gellman’s brilliant book Angler, on the Vice Presidency of Dick Cheney. It presents a portrait of a "leader" fleeing to his bunker, virtually peeing down his leg, sure that 9/12 and the days after would see a series of follow-on attacks by Al Qaeda.

Actually, 9/11 was both the high-water mark and the beginning of the end of Al Qaeda as a terrorist threat. The suicidal nature of the attacks on the World Trace Center, the Pentagon, and probably the White House, not only cost the terrorist 19 of their most highly-trained, highly-skilled, cosmopolitan undercover agents, it identified them, and allowed American and allied intelligence agencies to trace their movements and contacts, taking off the board still more valuable personnel and networks. Although Al Qaeda has stayed alive, and has committed more crimes, their magnitude and impact have been sharply reduced, and their attempts to expand their range to "the far enemies" of the west have also diminished.

Expect the same for Al Shabaab. the fact that many of the terrorists have been taken alive, and will be available for questioning, as well as post-facto investigation, should prove of great value to the counter-terrorism services of Kenya, the US, and their allies. Further, once again, the price of striking a dramatic blow has been very high for the Somali terrorist militia. It has "used up" many, if not most of its "best people," especially those whose English-language skills allowed them to penetrate Kenya, and would make them dangerous to the US and other western countries where English is a common first or second language. The dead and the captured will now reveal not just identities but "tails," connections to other people, places and organizations which are now in great danger.

As with Al Qaeda and 9/11, Al Shabaab, already largely driven to hidey-holes in the Somali bush, and already riven with deadly internal disputes, may never recover from its greatest "victory."

Yesterday's Times report, went to absurd lengths to magnify the terrorists' achievements.

They were able to sneak across the Somali-Kenya border. This is something Somali peasants having been doing every day for years. Yes, as the Times noted, corruption of poorly-paid, virtually untrained Kenyan border guards adds to the problem, but basically, this is a long border, and can be penetrated without paying off officials.

They were able to gain "inside help" at the Mall, and this allowed them to smuggle in, large, devastating belt-fed machine guns. The ability to pay off a mall employee, even a Mall security employee to get big boxes surreptitiously brought in, while it has horrible effects, is, again, hardly a major feat of sophisticated planning and execution.

Once the terrorists were in place (and given the damage to the Mall structure, it will likely take weeks to fully search for corpses, terrorists and their victims, and get a count on how many attackers were involved) they proved very hard to overcome. As I said in my last blast, people who have no compunctions about killing will kill many before they are stopped. That they we so heavily armed is sobering, but should not be surprising. Again, to repeat myself, our wicked world is full of weapons, heavy and light, and is also oversupplied with rich benefactors who will buy weapons and help get them to religious or ideological killers. No surprises there.

It is the nature of crime and punishment that particular crimes will take authorities by surprise, even if they have been both watching and planning for such events for years. Very few crimes are prevented, except in the wake of prior crimes. The post 9/11 investigations did allow US and allied intelligence agencies to prevent some planned follow-on attacks. The post Westgate Mall investigations are likely to do the same.

Especially since they will be led by agencies which have long been operating, and gathering valuable, even if not pre-emptive intelligence on Al Shabaab, notwithstanding strains in US-Kenyan relations over our policy of "distancing" from the indicted Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Today's Times piece from Kenya,, in addition to hyping the Al Shabaab "threat" to the US -- at least no one is calling it "the homeland" -- is bursting with arguments for the necessity of the US to swallow its principles against credibly-accused mass-murderers and to embrace the political leader who is also, somehow, the country's biggest private land-owner.


He needs us more than we need him, and President Kenyatta's hurt pride has been no bar to ongoing American law enforcement, intelligence and military operations.

It may help some guy at a Nairobi think tank to suck up to Mr. Kenyatta, but it is help we almost certainly do not need.

None of this seems to have occurred to the folks at "the world's greatest newspaper."

As to the idea that any of the Al Shabaab-indoctrinated Somali-Americans might be using their passports to return home with mayhem on their agendas, umm, Timesfolk, this does not seem to me a believable scenario.

Even if they use some other passports (duh), US borders are harder to penetrate than Kenya's, and smuggling or buying guns here -- while appallingly easy for too many people -- are not likely to be Kenya-easy tasks for Somali-Americans. And by the way, the best reason for that is not anti-Black racism among gun-sellers, but the high level of patriotism among Somali-Americans, who like other immigrant groups, stand ready to rat out people from their community ready to destroy the country they love, and the much-improved lives they have created here.

Are Al Shabaab and terrorism real threats? Of course they are, but panicky threat-inflation, by government officials, "experts" or journalists is unhelpful and flat ridiculous.


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